Puppies, by their very nature, are excited! They are excited by life, by new environments and stimuli, by other animals, by people and children, by toys and food, by noises, anything and everything. We may well see our pup is excited by a certain toy or object and find it rather amusing, thereby continuing a game with the toy or object for a good 20 minutes. However, what we don’t see is the arousal levels of that pup getting higher and higher, excitement levels are getting higher, and we also don’t see how difficult it may be to bring that pup down again to a relatively calm state.
We all happily play with our pups, and indeed we should, it’s a great way of interacting and bonding with your little ball of fluff. Play, in the right context, can be a fantastic training aid. It can be a huge reinforcer! Whether it be a game of tuggy with you, or a play off lead with dog friends, it’s a great reward for good or desired behaviour. However, when is play inappropriate? When is too much play, too much play?
Largely we start to think we’ve played too much or overexcited our pups when the teeth come out! We feel those teeth on us, we hear the growly noises, we feel the feet and claws leaping at us and we think ‘uh oh……we’ve overexcited him’. A pup can reach this excitement level in a few minutes, or less, so always bear this in mind when playing with your pup.
There are a couple of ways to try and keep the excitement levels down, and over-arousal levels lower, in just a couple of simple steps.
Here’s a couple:
- Hands off! – be aware of where your hands are, an over excited pup will grab moving hands pretty quickly! Trying to touch/hold/grab collar/etc may seem sensible, but the more you wave your hands about near your pup, the more likely he is to try and grab them in his excited state!
- Ask for a sit every 20-30 seconds – sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Try it, have a couple of treats ready to reward, it can really help to bring your pup ‘down’ from the all the excitement and prevent your pup ever reaching a hugely high state of arousal!
- Encourage a ‘watch’ before throwing a toy – teach your pup to offer eye contact on cue, gaining eye contact prior to throwing can also help in the ‘leaping’ for the toy and grabbing it from hands! Painful if the teeth accidentally catch you!
- Use the toy as a reward – ask for a few steps of heelwork, then praise with a few seconds of tuggy, then ask for a down, then reward with a throw of the tuggy, ask for a ‘touch’ or ‘watch’ then reward with tuggy again for a few seconds. This may really help in keeping your pup focused on listening, not merely flying about like a loon.
- Keep the last few minutes calm – try to slow down games gradually, lessen the tuggy, calm down the throw of the ball, wind down don’t just simply ‘stop’ the game and walk away.
- End games with a sit/down/watch – gaining a bit of focus instead of simply walking off leaving your pup a quivering overexcited bitey monster!
I’ll not insult your intelligence and tell you that using the above techniques will miraculously stop your pup getting over excited, pups ARE excited by life and we adore them for it. However, we can harness that and direct it into appropriate play and interactions. Pups excitement levels escalate quickly, very quickly, so work to keep those levels low as much as is possible, and encourage the behaviours you DO want to see. Simply saying ‘no’ repeatedly will likely just go in one ear and out the other!
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